An elevator ride through the middle of a hill? A war memorial at the top of a water tower? Experiences don’t get a lot stranger (or interesting) than those in Whanganui.
Like something out of science fiction, the town’s Drurie Hill elevator (the only public underground elevator in the country) runs through the center of a hill via a 65.8 m vertical shaft. Built in 1919, the elevator was constructed to link the suburb of Drury Hill to the rest of the town and was seen as the answer to the local council’s need to provide some form of public transport to and from the CBD. Astonishingly, no one even questioned the concept!
As the elevator shaft was located deep within the hill, a tunnel was required to reach it so before construction on the shaft began, a 205 m long, 3 m high entrance-tunnel had to be built. Shortly after work began on it, a landslide temporarily put a stop to the digging – but not for long. Today, many visitors find the experience of walking through the long tunnel of painted white painted bricks an eerie experience. But perhaps not as spooky as the elevator itself.
Like a machine from Dr. Who, the elevator, with its concertinaing doors and mahogany panelled interior, is seriously surreal, and like nothing you’ve seen before (which is very likely given that the contraption is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere!) The shaking and wobbling on your way up may have you feeling you won’t reach the top but don’t be deceived – this is a well-oiled machine and you will get there!
Two more treats await you on top of Drury Hill: a birds-eye view of the town, backed by panoramic views of Mt Ruapehu, the Tasman Sea and the surrounding Taranaki landscape – and the chance to go even higher!
A short stroll from the elevator lookout is one of Whanganui’s two war memorials. It sports a Category 2 Historic Places listing and an internal winding staircase that allows visitors to climb to the top. The 35.5-meter high tower is built of a local rock formed in part from seashells – which explains its distinct rough texture. Once you’ve climbed the 176 steps to reach the caged, open-air summit, and looked out at the view and the river far below, you’ll appreciate the effort it took to get where you are.
Options for descending are two: the elevator (again), or if you’re knees are up to it, the concrete staircase – a 191-step affair. Bereft of trees when first built, the staircase now sports an attractive canopy of foliage (remember to take a torch if visiting on a winter’s evening.
Whether you’re visiting Whanganui’s unusual dual attraction for the first time or reliving the experience, you won’t be disappointed. This elevator-memorial climb combo is a rare find anywhere, let alone in our own backyard.
The elevator is open Monday – Friday 8:00am – 6:00pm and Saturday – Sunday: 8:00am – 6:00pm. It’s free to visit the war memorial tower and only $2 per person for a one-way ride in the elevator.